F1 Japanese GP | Race | Verstappen wins easily in interesting Grand Prix dominated by tyre wear

Photo credit: Red Bull Racing
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Saturday’s qualifying resulted 27th front row for Red Bull Racing, so beforehand another walk in the park for Max Verstappen was anticipated. But with a 40°C track temperature, a lot warmer than during practice, tyre wear would be the big question mark for today’s race.

At lights out it was Verstappen who leaded away for Sergio Pérez and Lando Norris, who was pressured by both Carlos Sainz and the soft-shod Fernando Alonso. Entering the Esses it was Daniel Ricciardo who didn’t see Alex Albon, who also started on soft, on his right side, causing them both to crash.

The impact caused the tyre barrier to be come dislodged, resulting in a red flag and a little delay before the medical car could clear Albon. With both drivers safely out of the car, the reconstruction of the tyre barrier took a little under 20 minutes, ultimately resulting in a delay of about half an hour.

The standing restart took place with some cars on hard tyres, among them both Mercedes, who subsequently drop back. Due to timing issues hometown hero Yuki Tsunoda is shown a lap down, but he’s firmly between both Mercedeses. Both the timing issues and Tsunoda’s good position didn’t take long as George Russell got his white-walled Pirelli’s on temperature and overtook the RB-driver on the main straight.

Replay shows that Esteban Ocon was hit by teammate Pierre Gasly at the restart, but his engineer ensures him that everything is allright. Both Nico Hülkenberg and Valtteri Bottas make an early stop, with Sauber’s stop being a tad slow, but not as catastrophically as in the first three races.

Tsunoda and Zhou Guanyu also opt to go to the hard rubber, while Kevin Magnussen overtakes Gasly around the outside in turn 1. A lap later the Frenchman is under pressure of Logan Sargeant, but the Williams-driver cannot make the move stick. On-boards show the Alpine-driver has almost no grip as Tsunoda passes him on the outside of turn 6.

Russell reports some vibrations, while Lewis Hamilton gets told that the medium drivers have high degradation. Who also has high degradation seems to be Gasly, who is attacked in the 130R and wiggles extremely coming out of the Casio Triangle, giving Sargeant an easy run to 13th place.

Lando Norris stops in lap 12 as the first one of the front runners, followed by teammate Oscar Piastri a lap later. Zhou has an issue, stopping twice before retiring the car with a gearbox failure.

When Fernando Alonso stops as the last one of the soft runners he switches to the medium tyres, having a completely different strategy compared to the drivers around him. A bit further back in the midfield it’s the Alpines that plummet down the order, as one after the other passes either Gasly or Ocon.

Pérez stops in lap 16 joined by Sainz, with both going to mediums. Race leader Verstappen stops a lap later and comes back out on track behind Russell, who is immediately taken care of. Norris has a ballsy move around outside of Hamilton into turn 1, utilising his newer tyres to the max.

The next one to overtake Hamilton is Pérez. He first tries to overtake in Spoon, but eventually does it in 130R. Russell is the next one on Pérez. Sainz does overtake Hamilton into Spoon, while Sargeant defends against Tsunoda.

Up front Verstappen overtakes Leclerc for the lead, while Sainz looks a bit stuck behind Russell. The Spaniard is however in the form of his life and does overtake again into Spoon.

Pérez in the meantime reeled in Norris and overtakes into the Casio Triangle. Russell then finally stops, and later in the lap 11th until 15th stop at the same time, with Tsunoda coming out on top. He immediately praises his the team on the radio, as it brings him in points-scoring position.

Photo credit: Red Bull Content Pool

Piastri is next in line to overtake Hamilton, but the seven-time World Champion is called in for a stop. Pérez attacks Leclerc at te halfway point and after the Monegasque fends off the Mexican, he outbrakes himself into Degner 2, letting Pérez by.

It prompts Ferrari to bring their current lead guy in, joined by Norris. Leclerc gets back ahead of Russell, while Norris ends up behind him. The one young Briton overtakes the other one at the start of the next lap, all while Verstappen is still dominating up front.

In the midfield it’s Lance Stroll who is pressuring Tsunoda, who both are quickly gaining on Hülkenberg. Piastri has a small lock up into the Casio Triangle and he stops a little later, while Russell complains about his helmet being pulled from his head. Tsunoda has (again) a great overtake in the Esses, leaving Hülkenberg in his wake.

Pérez stops again in lap 34, joined this time by Alonso. In the next two laps the Red Bull-driver disposes of Norris and Leclerc.

Sainz also has lock up in the Casio Triangle, forcing him to stop a lap later. He dropped back behind Hamilton, but overtakes him in the next lap, at the same time that Russell makes another pit stop, proving Mercedes’ “one-stop” strategy doesn’t work. Piastri pressures Alonso, with Norris being a bit twitchy coming out of Degner 2.

Hamilton also stops for a second time, but a slow right front tyre change results in a larger gap to teammate Russell than hoped for. Briefly there is a fear for a possible (Virtual) Safety Car shaking up the order yet again, as Sargeant has gone straight into Degner 2, but the American can keep it out of the wall and reverses it out of the gravel. He drops back to last and immediately stops for new softs.

Norris has a lock-up into hairpin, as a result of Sainz getting closer and closer. With the DRS on the straight Norris doesn’t even defend against the Ferrari-driver.

In lap 46 Sainz overtakes his teammate for the podium, Stroll overtakes Bottas in turn 6 for 12th, and Hülkeberg follows suit by passing Bottas at beginning of the next lap. Stroll repeats his overtake in turn 6, this time on Magnussen.

In the closing stages Russell closes in on Alonso and Piastri, with Hamilton gaining on all three, as Hülkenberg passes teammate Magnussen.

Russell then tries to divebomb Piastri into the Casio Triangle, forcing the Ozzy off. The Mercedes driver gets a run into turn 1, but McLaren-driver defends superbly. Unfortunaly for him Piastri makes a mistake in the Casio Triangle when entering the final lap, meaning that Russell can overtake for 7th.

At the end of the lap Verstappen crosses the line first, followed by Pérez who makes it a Red Bull 1-2. Sainz has yet again a great performance, grabbing the last podium place. Leclerc is fourth for Norris. Alonso is 6th on quite a distance behind Norris, just in front of Russell, Piastri and Hamilton. Tsunoda rounds up the top 10 after some good overtakes and pitstops by the team.